Yellow Vest Movement Not Going Away No Matter How Much Tear Gas Macron Throws At Them
French President Emmanuel Macron is getting fed up with the less-than-fashion-forward yellow vest movement. It's been five weeks now of their protests. Macron's already caved and suspended the gasoline tax increase that started the whole mess, but they still won't go away. Do they want free gas -- sorry, petrol -- now? Theresa May officially has the worst job in Europe, but Macron's not far behind her.
There were 168 arrests in Paris just on Saturday. The police responded in force with water cannons, baton charges, and tear gas. The latter coated parts of the city in smog, which ranks high on Wonkette's Irony Meter. If that's not hardcore enough, French magazine Marianne reports that some of the armored police cars deployed this weekend contained "a radical device" that was only to be used as "a last resort." "Last resorts" have a habit of coming into play sooner than you think, so what is this device exactly? Well, it's a weapon mounted on the top of select vehicles that can spread a "debilitating powder" across the size of six soccer fields in ten seconds. It has the same power as 200 tear gas grenades and will knock folks flat on their asses pretty much immediately.
Yikes! Silly me, I always thought France was so
European and human-rightsy. Now Macron's turning into Liam Neeson's character from Taken.
These protests, though, are proving a national crisis and -- perhaps even worse -- a tourism one, as well. Last Saturday, the city pretty much shut down for the day in fear of violence. Most of its cultural sites were closed, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the Pantheon, and a bunch of other stuff you always think you'll get around to seeing but don't. If you'd saved up for a fancy Paris vacation and arrived to find the city offering the same cultural amenities as Cleveland, Ohio, you'd be pissed.
The French police are also pissed. They feel they're overworked and are annoyed with a proposed 62 million euro cut in their budget. The Alliance union has encouraged a "work slow down" today, where police forces stay inside their stations and only respond to emergency calls. Members of another police union, UNSA, plan to really half-ass it with the bare minimum of services and demand a meeting with Macron, where I presume they'll just yell at him a lot. I bet that's all Macron has on his calendar these days.
Even less encouraging for Macron is that the UNSA has threatened to "mimic the yellow vest" protests and start occupying roundabouts if their demands aren't met. You really don't want the police thinking, "Hey, those protestors might dress stupidly but I kinda like their style."
Although fewer protestors came out last weekend, the movement has resulted in notable concessions from a humbled Macron. They include a 100-euro increase for minimum wage earners, the removal of a planned tax increase for a majority of pensioners, and tax-free overtime pay for all workers. But the protestors aren't ready to put away their yellow vests just yet.
"I'm pleased with what we've achieved. After three weeks we've forced him to cave in," said Arnaud Ansermier, a construction worker at a picket line around a shopping centre in Saint Etienne in central France.
"We've pushed the door open, but it's not enough," he said.
Macron is now so desperate for the help his well-tailored suits can't provide he's turned to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy was an incredibly unpopular and corrupt president. His replacement, François Hollande, was less popular and less corrupt but he doesn't have Sarkozy's "law and order" bonafides. Hollande also says mean things about Macron and he gets enough of that from practically everyone else. Let's just hope Sarkozy doesn't recommend any "last resorts."
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."